Custom Style

Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic

Restoring a Vintage Ring Hat

I know I’ve stated that I do not do alterations or repairs, however, every once in a while I am given the opportunity to restore something vintage – the type of project that usually offers me a fun challenge.

Julie, a friend of a friend, enjoys collecting and wearing hats (I really wish everyone still wore hats!) and she found an old olive-green velvet ring hat at an estate sale. It was in surprisingly good condition, but it had a sad feather placed oddly across the front. The feather needed to be replaced – the shaft was broken and the end was bent.

The vintage ring hat before restoration.

Side views of ring hat before restoration.

When the hat arrived for repairs, I was a little confused by the Robin Hood-like feather – it just didn’t match the hat!

The feather was just thrown straight across the front of the ring.

I had a feeling the feather was not original, so I did a little research and confirmed my suspicions. I discovered that ring hats were popular in the 1950s and into the 1960s. They came in a variety of colors but all the trimmings (including face veil) invariably matched the color of the hat itself. I found a couple of good examples in my friend Ken’s vintage shop at VintageMartini.com:

Vintage ’50s ring hat of black velvet with flower decoration (veil no longer attached).

Vintage ’50s ring hat in brown velvet with matching veil & mink trim.

I suspected that Julie’s hat once had a veil of matching olive-green millinery net that had probably torn, and whoever removed it had decided to add the feather instead of replacing the veil. I started the restoration by taking off the feather, and sure enough, there were pieces of matching net underneath!

Someone had just glued the feather right on top of the original veil and then cut off the netting around the feather.

Sadly, the feather enthusiast had just slapped it on with hot-glue. No matter how carefully I tried to steam and re-melt the glue off, I couldn’t remove it all from the hat without damaging the velvet. So I picked off what I could and planned my design in order to cover up what I could not remove of the awful glue-job.

I decided that flowers of a matching olive-green would be the most authentic. I already happened to have some wool felt in the perfect shade of green, which led me to experiment with making felt roses like I talked about in this previous post.

I think I’ve finally perfected my rose-making abilities!

After a failed attempt to dye some store-bought net the correct color, I ordered some out-of-production millinery veiling in the right shade of olive-green and made a classic birdcage veil. Then I discreetly tacked the veil to the hat with a few tiny stitches and placed my handmade felt roses where they covered the old glue spots. Once everything was hand-sewn onto the hat (no more icky glue added to this vintage hat!), I had a drastically different hat:

The vintage ring hat restored to its former glory!

Side views of the finished hat.

Each felt rose was made using individually shaped petals that were then stitched together by hand. The rolled felt stem that I made for one of the rosebuds was perfect for hiding the old line of glue across the top.

Top view of hat and close-up of the back of felt rose.

The back of the hat had a little circle of velvet that was probably part of original trim decoration and might have been the point of origin for the face veil. The little circle was a slightly frayed, so I hand-stitched around it to make its presence look intentional.

Back of hat before and after.

And here I am modeling the hat so that you can see the effect of the veil on a real person. The veil ends just below the nose.

I like how the hat and veil color match my eyes.

I think my favorite thing about this project was how much my husband wrinkled his nose at the hat when he first saw it with the feather, and then once I was finished, he wanted me to keep it he loved it so much! I may have to be on the lookout for another vintage olive-green ring hat – or at least make myself a hat with millinery veiling someday.

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7 responses to “Restoring a Vintage Ring Hat

  1. Karen March 14, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    What a fabulous transformation! The finished hat is now probably prettier than it was in its original state. Your friend must be so pleased!

  2. Pary Moppins March 14, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    YEA!!!!!! Oh Ms. Brooke the hat is so much better than I thought it ever could be. It is a sad little hat no more. My husband and I were out Easter bonnet shopping (he’s a good man) and he looked at the brand new mass produced hats and decided your work and the once neglected green hat were far superior.
    Thank you for taking on this project. Thank you for doing such an authentic and beautifully executed restoration. Thank you for seeing the potential. Just thank you!
    And f.y.i. anytime you want some hats to play with, I’ve got you covered. 🙂
    Thank you again…now…all I need for a fabulous outfit is a new-to-me Collins bag…and some 3/4 gloves…and a new dress…I need to go shopping! 😉

  3. Athene March 14, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    Yay!!!! 🙂 That’s a really great pic of you – the color of the hat is perfect. You’ll have to find/make one in that shade!

  4. Andrea Henry March 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    Great job. Adore it.

  5. bigbackyard November 24, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    Thanks for the info about matching the trimmings to the ring hat. I am in process of re-working one of these. Originally it was mink that was, when I received it, in very ratty condition. I took it down to the structure, re-padded with quilt batting, then covered that with some vintage silk tie fabric. Color scheme is black, navy, silver. Now I am adding the veiling and a rosette in the same fabric. Veiling is old black French silk. Your felt flowers are very, very nice.

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